What is a Macmillan nurse?
Macmillan nurses can help you understand your cancer diagnosis and treatment. They can offer support to you, and the people close to you.
Macmillan nurses are registered nurses with skills and experience in caring for people with cancer. They often have further qualifications in cancer care.
What does a Macmillan nurse do?
Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
'When I was in hospital, I didn't have to worry about the cancer - my CNS and the team ensured everything went so smoothly that I only had to focus on the next step of the treatment and recovery process.' - Martha, diagnosed with cervical cancer
A CNS who specialises in the type of cancer you have is usually your main contact at the hospital. They are called your key worker.
They will give you information about:
- the type of cancer you have
- your treatment options
- possible side effects.
They usually co-ordinate your care. They can also give you and your family practical and emotional support and refer you to other services that can help.
You are usually referred to a CNS when you are first going for tests for cancer, or have just been diagnosed with cancer. They will give you a telephone number so you can contact them. But there may not always be a CNS for your type of cancer. You can ask your doctor if there is a nurse specialist you can talk to.
The CNS may be part of a team of clinical nurse specialists. This depends on:
- the type of cancer they specialise in
- how many people they care for.
You may meet more than one CNS involved in your care.
A Macmillan CNS may specialise in an area that is not specific to a type of cancer. They may specialise in:
- a cancer treatment such as chemotherapy
- caring for urgent problems caused by cancer or its treatments
- a particular symptom of cancer or side effect of cancer treatment such as lymphoedema.
You may see these nurses as well as your key worker.
Palliative care nurses
Often, people will say “Macmillan nurse” to mean a nurse who helps manage the symptoms of advanced cancer. Nurses that do this are called specialist palliative care nurses.
Some palliative care nurses are based in hospital. They may be called a palliative care clinical nurse specialist (CNS).
They see you if you are in the hospital as an inpatient. They are experts in managing your symptoms and medications. They will work with your key worker and other members of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) to help plan your care in hospital. They may refer you to the palliative care team in the community when you go home.
Other specialist palliative care nurses are based in the community and visit you in your home. They work as part of a community palliative care team and may be connected to a hospice. They may have a different name, which might include the hospice they are attached to.
Community palliative care nurses work with your GP and district nursing care team to give specialist advice on:
- treating symptoms
- emotional support
- other support you may need.
All specialist palliative care nurses, even if they are based in different places or are known by different names, have similar skills and knowledge. Their aim is to help you live as well as possible.
They are experts in controlling symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath. They can:
- help manage your medications
- help you plan for your future
- arrange practical care and support if you need it
- offer emotional support to you and the people close to you.
They do not usually give hands-on physical nursing care in the same way as hospital ward nurses or district nurses in the community.
In the video below, Andy talks about his experience of being a Macmillan Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist.
Frequently asked questions
Some people think Macmillan nurses only help people at the end of life. But when you have advanced cancer, you can be referred to a palliative care nurse at any stage. You may be referred to manage symptoms and then be discharged when you no longer need that care and support. You can always be referred again if needed.
Some people may be referred when they are first diagnosed with advanced cancer. Then they are known to the community palliative care team and can access their support when they need it.
Palliative means that is it not possible to cure the cancer. But many people can live for a long time with advanced cancer. Palliative treatment aims to manage the cancer and any symptoms so you can live as well as possible during that time.
A healthcare professional will need to refer you for palliative care. This will depend on your situation and needs. The referral can be from your cancer doctor or specialist nurse, GP or district nurse.
They will talk to you first and will only refer you if you agree. If you would like to be referred but no-one has talked to you about it, talk to your cancer team or GP.
There are many other types of nurses who help look after people with cancer at home. These include district nurses, hospice at home nurses and Marie Curie nurses.
It is not possible to get a Macmillan nurse by calling the Macmillan Support Line. The Macmillan Support Line does not have contact details for Macmillan nurses.
If you would like to talk about your care or give feedback about a Macmillan nurse, you should contact the hospital, hospice or your GP practice.
Macmillan Cancer Support will usually fund a Macmillan post for 3 years. After this time, the NHS or other organisations will continue the funding. A Macmillan nurse will usually keep their Macmillan job title, even if they are funded by the NHS.
About our information
Below is a sample of the sources used in our looking after someone with cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Supporting adult carers committee. Supporting Adult Carers: NICE guideline [NG150] Published: 22 January 2020. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng150 (accessed May 2022)
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. End of life care for adults service delivery committee. End of life care for adults service delivery committee [B] Evidence review: Timing of referral to palliative care services. NICE guideline NG142. October 2019. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng142/evidence/b-timing-of-referral-to-palliative-care-services-pdf-695552699 (accessed May 2022)
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.
How we can help
Join our free cancer forums and chat anonymously to others who understand what you are going through. Our community is available 24/7 and you can use the Ask an Expert section to get information and support from our experienced professionals.